Humble Beast Records, a West Coast hip-hop label that features a number of Christian rappers, is one of the most progressive record labels in America. What I find most exciting about this label is that they are producing a fair amount of free music and the artists rap about real life situations while applying the gospel. I recently caught up with one of the pillars of the label, Braille, to discuss his life and his last album, Weapon Aid:
Tell us about your faith journey.
I actually wasn't raised in a Christian home. My parents were divorced and neither side raised me with any specific religion. The gospel was first preached to me by a hip-hop street evangelist when I was 14. I wasn't really searching for God, and I wasn't at a rock bottom in life. I was just a young, shy kid who liked to rap. But after the gospel was preached to me I could never leave it alone. Looking back, my understanding was pretty limited: I didn't have my own car and my family didn't go to church. I didn't really start regularly attending church or being discipled until after high school. Nevertheless, the awareness of sin, the desire to please God, and the reality that I needed a Savior, and that Jesus was the only way became evident during my teen years.
How were you introduced to rap?
I started rapping at age 13. When I was in middle school I was a fan of Michael Jackson, New Kids on the Block-yikes-and MC Hammer. I had a black-and-white checkered floor in my room and I would try to dance. I even tried singing for a little bit, but when I discovered rap the pieces finally fit together. I had a little composition notebook where I made up an imaginary crew because no one else around me rapped. When I got saved, the outlet took on a whole new meaning. For the most part I was isolated-as a hip-hop artist and as a believer-so those two worlds just gelled together for me. As I grew in my faith, I would express it in music-even when no one was listening. I didn't even call it "Christian" hip-hop. I didn't know there was such a thing.
What hip-hop artists influenced you?
The first album that made me say, "This is what I want to do," was Midnight Mauraders by A Tribe Called Quest. I was never a tough guy or a ladies' man. A lot of rap personas didn't fit me. When I started hearing groups like A Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul-guys who were rhyming about regular life and so forth-it helped me realize that there was a place within hip-hop for an artist like me.
Could you describe your last album for us?
I started writing the songs during a season of life where I was betrayed and abandoned. I knew bitterness and anger weren't going to help me. I also knew that I couldn't bottle it all in. So I opened up; I cried out to God. The process forced me to dig deeper in myself and see the depth of my own fallenness. The album titled Weapon Aid is just a clever way of saying "healing songs" [see the video clip of the song "Resurrect Me" below]. Calling out to God for healing and deliverance and ultimately confronting every area of my life with the gospel.
How has fatherhood changed you personally and your music?
My daughter is 4 years old and I've been a single father for a good portion of that time. Between age 3 and 4 I took a whole year off and just focused on her full time. When I performed at concerts, she would be on stage with me. Being full time with her changed so much in me. How I spent my time, what was important to me, and everything started to shift. After I put her to bed I would just study the Scriptures, get refreshed, and do it again the next day. I can't explain all the ways it changed me, but the Lord used that unique scenario in my life to teach me deeper levels of patience, serving, and humility. It has been a very humbling experience but I wouldn't trade it for anything.
Now that you're approaching 30, how have your views on being a man changed over the years?
[Being a man] is bigger than handling responsibilities. It's the understanding that my life truly isn't my own. Serving God means serving your family, serving the church, serving your co-workers. It's not a "part" of my life; it's my whole life. Nothing keeps you repentant like serving, because an unrepentant heart doesn't want to serve. But when your life requires you to serve, you have to rely on God in order to do it. You can't rely on God, or trust Him if you're beefing with him. So it pushes you towards repentance, and then you truly begin to see the depths of His grace in Jesus Christ. You see how dependent you really are, that you need Him in every area of your life. [Being a man] is seeing your sin for what it really is and realizing you can only overcome it through Jesus. You can only get back to God through Jesus because you are incapable of getting back on your own. From that comes a deep sense of gratitude. You are no longer doing anything good in order to prove your own goodness, or to earn God's favor. It's just a response to His grace with the hope that He would shine through your life and be glorified. Living by the grace of God through Jesus for the glory of God, in every area of life and repenting when you fail, that's what being a man is about.